Editor’s Note: This is the first in what we hope will be a series of contributions from K-12 educators, sharing ideas and strategies that are valuable and  transferable to the college classroom. We thought this activity, in particular, could readily be adapted for use in undergraduate courses across the disciplinary spectrum.

By Hetal Patel

In my work leading professional development for elementary school teachers, I have been thinking about ways to include discussion about issues of equity in math education. In a recent series, my co-facilitator and I asked teachers to reflect on the role of identities in relation to teaching and learning. They examined how their own experiences with learning may contribute to their identity as a mathematics teacher. During the third session of the series, we had teachers share their “mathematics learning autobiography.” The participants independently wrote responses to the following prompts:

  • What is your mathematics learning autobiography?
  • What aspects of your own history with learning mathematics do you think have an impact on your views about teaching mathematics?

In groups of about four, each participant shared something from their writing as they considered the following small group discussion questions:

  •   What roles did race, class, gender, culture, or language play in your math learning story?
  •   How do those experiences connect with what you have observed in your own students and their developing math identities?

The series participants included a diverse group of 26 teachers from four districts across Brooklyn, each of which was represented in the small groups. As I listened to their conversations, I heard a range of responses: from teachers sharing personal triggers, to connecting their own experiences with ways they respond to students, to debating beliefs about learning math, to responding emotionally. We closed the activity by facilitating a whole-group conversation. The activity allowed participants from varied backgrounds to begin developing a community for learning together by sharing their stories with one another.

The prompt and discussion questions were from The Impact of Identity in K-8 Mathematics: Rethinking Equity-Based Practices by Julia Aguirre, Karen Mayfield-Ingram, Danny Martin.

Hetal Patel is the Instructional Lead for the Division of Teaching and Learning in the Brooklyn North Borough Field Support Center.